Life Sentences: The Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Conviction
A conviction for a marijuana offense results in two different categories of punishment: (1) the punishment directly imposed by the judge, and (2) a range of collateral sanctions that are triggered by the conviction.
- Current policy focuses almost entirely on the direct punishment imposed by the judge, and has almost entirely ignored the collateral sanctions that result from a conviction. Yet, the collateral sanctions associated with a marijuana conviction are significant, and in many cases far exceed (in both severity and duration) the direct punishment.
- In most cases, a felony marijuana conviction (for example growing the plant) triggers the same collateral sanctions as those triggered by a conviction for murder, rape, or kidnapping. In many cases, the collateral sanctions for a marijuana-related conviction actually exceed those for a violent crime.
- Collateral sanctions triggered by a conviction can include: revocation or suspension of professional licenses, barriers to employment or promotion, loss of educational aid, driver’s license suspension, and bars on adoption, voting and jury service. For people who depend upon public assistance, a marijuana conviction can trigger a bar on receiving food stamps and restrict access to public housing. In some states, these sanctions continue for life.
- The 10 states with the most severe collateral sanctions with regard to marijuana convictions are (in descending order of severity): Florida, Delaware, Alabama, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, Utah, Arizona, and South Carolina.
- The 10 states with the least severe collateral sanctions (in ascending order) are: New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Missouri, Maine, Vermont, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and California.
- In 38 states, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction (personal possession for example) can result in a bar on adopting a child. In 7 of these states, this bar can operate for life.
- In 12 states, a felony marijuana conviction (growing a plant for example) results in a lifetime bar on receiving food stamps or temporary assistance for needy families. In 7 states even a misdemeanor conviction can result in a bar or restriction on receiving food stamps or temporary aid for needy families. In 3 states, a misdemeanor conviction can result in a lifetime ban. Only felony drug offenses result in this ban; not robbery, not kidnapping, not even murder.
- In 20 states, occupational licensing and certification agencies may deny, revoke, or suspend a professional license based on a misdemeanor marijuana conviction, even if the offense is completely unrelated to the person’s duties.
- In 28 states, a student who is convicted of possessing any amount will be denied federal financial aid for a year, and may also be denied state educational aid for a year or longer.
- In 21 states, and the District of Columbia, a misdemeanor conviction for personal possession can result in a driver’s license suspension for at least six months.
- In 47 states, a conviction for growing (or any other marijuana-related felony) results in at least some period of time during which the person is barred from voting. In 6 of these states, the bar on voting lasts for life.
- In 46 states, any marijuana conviction (and in some cases merely an arrest) can result in a bar from public housing, usually for at least 3 years.
These collateral sanctions should be recognized and included in a rational debate about marijuana policy and social justice, and carefully considered when crafting or revising legislation.
For more information on marijuana laws in Texas, visit norml.org.